As Talleyrand famously said after Napoleon’s international kidnap and subsequent execution of the royalist Duc d’Enghein, “it was worse than a crime, it was a mistake.”
The unknown number (from a few dozen to a few hundred) pro-Trump protesters who tussled with the police, stormed the Capitol building, and caused property damage in the chambers and offices achieved nothing but giving a monumental free kick to the left. It was illegal, it was wrong, it was pointless, it was counter-productive. If all the legitimate legal and constitutional processes were not able to “stop the steal” of the presidential election, a horde of masked clowns rampaging through the seat of the legislative branch was not going to change the outcome. Even if you are certain in your mind and heart that the election was indeed stolen, rioting through the halls of Congress is not the solution.
Amidst today’s tumult with all its hyperventilation about coups, sedition and treason, hypocrisy has had its best day in years. It’s not “whataboutism” to remind the other side of politics that their outrage about political violence is very selective indeed. The fact that most of the right-of-centre politicians, personalities and commentators that I am aware of (myself included) have condemned the actions of those involved in violence and destruction today stands in a stark contrast with the left’s attitude towards month upon months of “mostly peaceful” BLM and Antifa rioting last year (continuing into 2021 in some locations like Portland, finally causing its idiot Mayor to have second thoughts about appeasing anarcho-communist radicals) that had caused some 30 deaths, countless injuries, and led to $2 billion of damage to private and public property. While numerous cities were in flames, both literally and metaphorically, the cause and the anger were near universally deemed to be righteous, violent “protests” lionised, Trump blamed indirectly and “white nationalists” directly as agent provocateurs for violence, crowds de facto exempted from COVID restrictions, and bail money raised by celebrities and even the Biden campaign team members.
While it’s pious and well-intentioned to say that “violence is never the answer” or “violence never achieves anything”, history, including last year’s, clearly demonstrates that quite often it is and it does. It shouldn’t, of course, not in a liberal democracy, but sadly the events show there is no consensus even around this seemingly self-evident and self-evidently desirable proposition. There are no absolute principles; it’s all relative, and so those loudest today about the invasion of the Capital Hill were by and large missing in action in 2020 so as not to antagonise parts of their electoral base and viewership. Political violence in the United States, of course, is nothing new, but the left’s reaction to last year’s events has served to re-legitimise violence as a mean in pursuit of political ends. It was now again supposed to be “the voice of the voiceless”. In 2020 it was those who believed they had no other option as structural racism made peaceful struggle for justice impossible; in 2021 it is those who believe that the establishment stole the presidential election, making a mockery of democracy. You like political violence, you’ll get more of it, though you will likely not enjoy its source. I guess we won’t be defunding the police after all. And there won’t be gaslighting about “mostly peaceful” protests or not letting the rash actions of the few tarnish the broader movement. When the right is in sights, responsibility is collective.
It was an ugly day for the conservative movement. It was a great day for the Democrats and Never-Trump folk who finally go some long awaited and hoped for real “right-wing violence” from Trump supporters to fret about. And it was a sad day for America. Even sadder, it’s difficult to be optimistic about the future.